Comic utilizes stories and humor to form connections with others

Brittany Tilander, a Milwaukee-based comedian who centers her work on body, sex and queer positivity, said she strives to make audience members feel seen

Taylor Reisdorf

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March 25, 2020

Photo by Taylor Reisdorf

Brittany Tilander interacts with the audience while she tells jokes and stories last Thursday at The Plus.

Milwaukee-based comedian Brittany Tilander strives to live life outside the box, and she said that is reflected in her comedy.

“I’m the type of person that lives a life to have a story to tell,” Tilander said.  

Tilander has been doing stand-up for about three years now, she said, and her comedy is constructed on a foundation of body, sex and queer positivity.

Tilander hosts a “strip-storytelling” showcase called “Body Language,” which premiered last June during Madison Comedy Week, she said. She also writes and performs for a comedy group called The Early Late Show.

Tilander said the hardest part about comedy, for her, is being a woman in a generally white, male-dominated field.

“Any woman can vouch for that — where they have to toe this line of what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Tilander said. “My showcase, in particular, is meant to give marginalized groups of people a space in comedy. It’s nice having a group of people get together and talk about different s—.”

According to Our Lives, a Madison-based magazine that recognizes the city’s LGBTQ community and its allies, ““Body Language” celebrates the silly, nasty, awkward, gory and embarrassing experiences we’re often too timid to talk about.”

“Body Language,” Tilander said, is completely booked through June. This proves that there’s an audience that wants to hear the voices and stories of marginalized people, she said.

Being an only child, Tilander said she was exposed to more mature forms of comedy at a young age. She said the movie “Party Girl,” mockumentaries and Saturday Night Live were some of her comedic inspirations. Tilander said she enjoys “poking fun” at herself during her sets.

Last week, Tilander told parts of her life story at Clearwater Comedy Thursday at The Plus for the fourth time — this time as the headliner. Jack Ross of Clearwater Comedy said Tilander keeps being invited back because of the vulnerability and rawness of her humor.

“Brittany’s comedy is very personal,” Ross said. “She talks a lot about her own life, which most comics don’t do. For example, I don’t do that. Her comedy is very vulnerable, which is amazing. Everyone can relate to it on some level.”

Ross said he’s been involved with Clearwater Comedy since July 11, 2017.

“Clearwater Comedy is very much a collaborative effort,” Ross said. “We’re all trying to build the comedy scene in Eau Claire, get more people involved. My role, but really everyone’s role, is to book people, get people involved.”

Ross said that, when it comes to headliners, Clearwater Comedy often selects people who are recommended by other comics or have performed at The Plus before and were well-received by the audience.

“Brittany is both of those,” Ross said. “Every time she’s been here, it’s been great.”

Locals Jerrika Mighelle and Maddi Herzfeid said they regularly attend comedy shows at The Plus and were there for Tilander’s performance on Thursday.

“If there’s a female lead, we will do our best to be here,” Mighelle said.

While she would’ve appreciated hearing more queer content, Herzfeid said she enjoyed Tilander’s performance. She said she found it brave and funny and commended Tilander’s confidence.

“I like how raw and raunchy she is,” Herzfeid said.

Tilander said performing at open mics helps her decide what content to include, and what content to omit, from her sets. She said she assesses the responses she gets to certain jokes and goes from there.

“Your harshest critics are your fellow comics,” Tilander said. “I feel like a lot of my jokes are centrally aligned. I talk a lot about my sexuality, I talk a lot about my personal experiences. You want it to be a cohesive show but you don’t want to be a one-trick pony. For me, it’s about writing from my experience but being conscious of jokes I’ve written in the past.”

Tilander said the best part of comedy is the ability to connect with others, to tell stories that resonate with audience members. She said she wants people to leave her shows feeling more understood and represented. She wants people to leave feeling better about themselves.

While Tilander said she feels as though she’s branded herself as a certain type of comic — one that’s female- and queer-centered — she especially enjoys when unexpected audience members approach her and tell her that a certain joke really resonated with them.

“It means so much for me for people to feel like my shows are a safe space,” Tilander said. “I really do want people to find common ground. We’ve all experienced a level of what I talk about and I want to bring people together in that way.”

Reisdorf can be reached at [email protected].